Crispus Attucks

WHERE shall we seek for a hero, and where shall we find a story?
Our laurels are wreathed for conquest, our songs for completed glory.
But we honor a shrine unfinished, a column uncapped with pride,
If we sing the deed that was sown like seed when Crispus Attucks died.

Shall we take for a sign this Negro-slave with unfamiliar name—
With his poor companions, nameless too, till their lives leaped forth in flame?
Yea, sorely, the verdict is not for us, to render or deny;
We can only interpret the symbol; God chose these men to die—
As teachers and types, that to humble lives may chief award be made;
That from lowly ones, and rejected stones, the temple's base is laid!

When the bullets leaped from the British guns, no chance decreed their aim:
Men see what the royal hirelings saw—a multitude and a flame;
But beyond the flame, a mystery; five dying men in the street,
While the streams of severed races in the well of a nation meet!

O, blood of the people! changeless tide, through century, creed and race!
Still one as the sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and place;
The same in the ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered seas;
Forever the fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies;
Indian and Negro, Saxon and Celt, Teuton and Latin and Gaul—
Mere surface shadow and sunshine; while the sounding unifies all!
One love, one hope, one duty theirs! No matter the time or ken,
There never was separate heart-beat in all the races of men!

But alien is one—of class, not race—he has drawn the line for himself;
His roots drink life from inhuman soil, from garbage of pomp and pelf;
His heart beats not with the common beat, he has changed his life-stream's hue;
He deems his flesh to be finer flesh, he boasts that his blood is blue:
Patrician, aristocrat, tory—whatever his age or name,
To the people's rights and liberties, a traitor ever the same.
The natural crowd is a mob to him, their prayer a vulgar rhyme;
The freeman's speech is sedition, and the patriot's deed a crime.
Wherever the race, the law, the land,—whatever the time, or throne,
The tory is always a traitor to every class but his own.

Thank God for a land where pride is clipped, where arrogance stalks apart;
Where law and song and loathing of wrong are words of the common heart;
Where the masses honor straightforward strength, and know, when veins are bled,
That the bluest blood is putrid blood—that the people's blood is red!

And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day;
The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick. Carr, and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown;
His feet were the first in perilous place to pull the king's flag down;
His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty's stream might flow;
For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first bid low.

Call it riot or revolution, or mob or crowd, as you may,
Such deaths have been seed of nations, such lives shall be honored for aye.
They were lawless hinds to the lackeys—but martyrs to Paul Revere;
And Otis and Hancock and Warren read spirit and meaning clear.
Ye teachers, answer: what shall be done when just men stand in the dock;
When the caitiff is robed in ermine, and his sworders keep the lock;
When torture is robbed of clemency, and guilt is without remorse;
When tiger and panther are gentler than the Christian slaver's curse;
When law is a satrap's menace, and order the drill of a horde—
Shall the people kneel to be trampled, and bare their neck to the sword?

Not so! by this Stone of Resistance that Boston raises here!
By the old North Church's lantern, and the watching of Paul Revere!
Not so! by Paris of 'Ninety-Three, and Ulster of 'NinetyEight!
By Toussaint in St. Domingo! by the horror of Delhi's gate!
By Adams's word to Hutchinson! by the tea that is brewing still!
By the farmers that met the soldiers at Concord and Bunker Hill!

Not so! not so! Till the world is done, the shadow of wrong is dread;
The crowd that bends to a lord to-day, to-morrow shall strike him dead.
There is only one thing changeless: the earth steals from under our feet,
The times and manners are passing moods, and the laws are incomplete;
There is only one thing changes not, one word that still survives—
The slave is the wretch who wields the lash, and not the man in gyves!

There is only one test of contract: is it willing, is it good?
There is only one guard of equal right: the unity of blood;
There is never a mind unchained and true that class or race allows;
There is never a law to be obeyed that reason disavow
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John Boyle O'Reilly

John Boyle O'Reilly was an Irish-born poet, journalist and fiction writer. more…

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"Crispus Attucks" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 15 Nov. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/21992/crispus-attucks>.

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